Limitations | “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself.”

Photo by Raymond Lee |

Written by David K. Irving

How to make films during a pandemic. Filmmaking is a handmade business that requires collaboration among an army of artisans. One silver lining on this dark lockdown cloud is that it is necessary that the show must go on, and as we all know, necessity is the mother of invention. Hollywood film and television shows have soldiered on under the yoke of strict medical safety measures. These measures include masks, constant testing, social distancing, limited crews, and a host of other restrictions to keep the risk of infection as close to zero as possible. These limitations also apply in the world of student filmmaking.

Filmmakers bristle under the weight of these restrictions but students of film should embrace the lessons provided by limitations. Jean Cocteau made the glorious film Beauty and the Beast during WW II with a limited budget and could only afford black and white film stock. Yet the film is no less beautiful than had it been shot in color, and in fact evokes a documentary tone adding an extra layer of engagement. Bruce, the shark in the film Jaws, didn’t always cooperate.

Val Lewton built his entire career on films in which elements of horror played out off-screen or in the dark. His theory was that the audiences’ imagination has a multi-billion-dollar budget.

Too often we identify problems in a negative light. A problem is defined as a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome as in “they have financial problems”. But solving problems is what filmmakers do. All day every day. No matter the amount of time dedicated to pre-production, a filmmaker, during principal photography, is constantly adjusting and improvising. It’s a matter of turning problems into possibilities.

The lessons that have provided students with wisdom and patience during the pandemic may taste sour now but will bear fruit in their future careers. To quote noted composer Igor Stravinsky,

“The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.”


Limitations | "The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself."David K. Irving is currently an Associate Professor and former Chair of the Film and Television program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. David has directed six feature films and dozens of documentaries. David is the co-author of the award-winning textbook, “Producing and Directing the Short Film and Video.”


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